By Pernille Rasmussen-Lykke Amonsen-Astrid Andersen-Camilla Christiansen, Physiotherapy volunteers, Denmark
We started our trip to Sapa on Friday the 10th May 2013, which we had really been looking forward to. Our expectations were high, as many people had told us what a wonderful place Sapa is and that it was one of the “must see” attractions of Vietnam. After having finished our respective projects on the day, we were all slightly tired but also excited about our forthcoming adventure. Our train departed Tran Quy Cap station at 09:50 PM and should be at our destination around 7 AM the next morning. We settled in quite nicely into our tiny train compartment which had 4 bunk beds with a small table between, where we spent the next hour watching episodes of Friends before we went to bed so we could be all fresh and awake for the next day. The A/C was going on full throttle, so we were all very happy that we had been provided with warm blankets, otherwise we would have awoken with a massive cold. After a slightly restless night, the train conductor woke us at 6 AM by shouting “morning” all through the train. Naturally we assumed this meant that we had arrived safely at Sapa, so we pulled back the curtains to see the spectacular nature. What we saw was not exactly pristine nature, and it did not even look like we were remotely close to any train station. Afterwards we were told that a landslide had happened further up along the tracks, so we were barred from proceeding on to Sapa and they were unable to say when we could start off again. After all it only took 3 hours waiting in a desolate place in Northern Vietnam, and then we were off again. Luckily, we had bought sandwiches which became our breakfast that morning. In the end, our train arrived six hours late at Lao Cai train station around noon time, and we were absolutely starving. But we got there!
We followed the immense crowd of tourist to the arrival plaza where we had to find our guide who would take us to the hotel. We found him pretty swiftly, however we had to wait for yet another hour for the bus which were scheduled to pick us up. The bus was filled to the brim and the last few unfortunate passengers had to vacate plastic chairs which had intermediately been placed in the bus. We were the only foreigners and the rest were local Vietnamese. The bus ride took roughly and hours time, and here we got a preview of the breathtaking nature around Sapa with the green mountain tops and stunning rice paddies. Arriving at Sapa City, we immediately noticed the clean, fresh air which was a stark contrast from the usual grey and polluted Hanoi air. It was reinvigorating to take a big gasp of fresh air, without having a major cough afterwards. The temperature was also considerable cooler than Hanoi, which suited us quite well.
The city of Sapa is placed on a mountainside with a view over a valley covered in rice paddies, forestland and small villages. When we arrived at our hotel, we got the chance to enjoy this spectacular view from our hotel balcony, before we went out for a well-deserved lunch. Thereafter we started out on a hiking tour with our English speaking guide to “The Cat Village”, which is the tribe that is most closely situated to Sapa.
When we were approximately 200 meters away from our hotel, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by tiny, local villagers all clad in the same colorful clothing (which were to show that they all belonged to the same tribe). Unfortunately their questions were as one-sided as their clothing, as each of them asked the same four questions to us time and time again. So after 6 kilometers of hiking, we were pretty bored about answering how old we were, where we came from, how many siblings we had and most importantly: whether we fancied in buying some of their dodgy souvenirs. However they were all extremely nice, and some of them even followed us all the way in the hope that we would finally succumb and buy some of their junk in order to get rid of them. Our hike brought us through several different villages which had dozens of small shops with homemade clothes, bags and jewellery which were all made in a cacophony of colors resembling their tribal clothing. All through the hike we enjoyed the most amazing views of mountains, rice paddies on the mountainsides and all the way down in the valley we heard and saw the thunder of a stunning waterfall. The hike down to the village was quite steep and we were suddenly well aware of what a strenuous hike it would be to climb back up to Sapa again. While we were walking along, we suddenly realized that a massive buffalo came stampeding down the narrow track that we were occupying. Fortunately it did not direct at any of us, but it did not take a long time before its partner-in-crime chose to take the same run down the track, and our guide did his utmost to distract it with shouts and flapping his arms, in order for it not to run towards any of us. It is safe to say that we were all somewhat shocked by this turn of events, but luckily no one was hurt. Later on we learned that some small boys had been taunting the buffalos further up the road which had caused them to run amok.
In the evening we ate dinner at the hotel. The food was okay but nothing special. Thereafter we chose to relax in our hotel rooms and got a long night of sleep.
We checked out of the hotel at 9 AM as we had scheduled to hike for the whole day together with our guide. The trip went to Lao Chai, where we would eat lunch and then we would return to Sapa. This is equal to about 17 kilometers walking on mountain tracks. We were accompanied (once again) by the tiny tribal ladies that were very keen to sell us their souvenirs once again. However they were extremely friendly in helping us and supporting us on the slopes, which had turned into treacherous patches of tracks due to the heavy rain the previous night. We realized that these ladies were from a different tribe, as their clothing was quite different. It was also surprising to ask about who they were. Even though they all looked to be over 60 years of age, the oldest of them stated that she was 35 years old. The weather was benign all through the Sunday and the sun was shining from a clear blue sky. This also resulted in some badly burned arms and shoulders, as our skins are not really used to the Vietnamese sun.
We took a lot of pictures of the spectacular scenery that surrounded Sappa. It is rather difficult describing how breathtaking the nature is in this part of Vietnam and the pictures we took does not justify this at all, as they can of course not capture the silence and the sounds from the nature.
When we arrived back at the hotel we had a few hours to eat and shower before we were picked up in a minivan and driven to the train. We embarked the train around 08.30 PM and our compartment was even smaller than the one we had had on the way to Sapa and the beds were smaller and different. Thus our train trip ended up being somewhat less comfortable than on the way up and we were rather tired when we met up at work after we arrived safely back in Hanoi.
Hanoi Youth Hostel – No.5 Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hotline: (+84) 972004080